On the road: Mercedes CLS – car review
They call it the saloon that thinks it’s a coupe. “The Mercedes CLS,” I was sometimes heard to murmur, leaning against it, doing a voice like Sean Connery, “the car made of muscle.” Then I’d set the alarm off and electronically immobilise it, but it was nothing the manual couldn’t fix.
So much car jargon, I often think, exists to replace perfectly serviceable words that car buffs don’t know about because they never speak to anybody. I give you “oddment stowage”, the term they use for for “small drawer”. And yet, when people talk about the “build quality” of a Merc, there is no other phrase for it. Everything you open, everything you close, every time you sit down, every time you move, there it is, in a noise or a texture or some ineffable combination of the two: build quality. One might almost just say “quality” for short.
I spoke to a driver who’d bought a CLS as a present to himself when he retired, and asked if there was anything that annoyed him about it. “The clock has a tick. It drives me mad.” Won’t it eventually run out of batteries? He shook his head morosely: “Nope. It’s the build quality, you see.”
The funny thing is, there are all kinds of touches that say they had a harassed mum in mind at the ideas stage – notably, a grocery drawer that pops complicatedly out of the boot lid; and, while we’re in this area, a boot that you can close with your nose (consult the manual for more detail). Still, to me, it yells “exec”, and makes more sense on an empty urban road at midnight than it does on a motorway (where it performs, sure, but doesn’t get a chance to show off).
Whizzing along the M20, I was just one of any number of wise-asses who could drive fast and smooth in a long, straight line. Swishing round a roundabout, the handling was so tight and sure, the whole thing so agile but so weighty, I felt like a shark. Accelerating was like skydiving (a little bit… not exactly. I have never been skydiving). Nor was I imagining things: it has nine-speed automatic transmission and is insanely powerful, yet subtle enough that the power never feels wasted or as though it was devised for some other purpose.
The cockpit isn’t perfect. The gears are on a paddle and I twice put myself in neutral trying to turn on the windscreen wipers, which was a bit of a surprise (not the second time – that was more of a doh). While the black leather upholstery is everything a leather-seat enthusiast would ever dream about, the black ash dash is a little naff. There is a whole wide world waiting for the product designer who understands where the addition of a wood trim is classy, and where it is not. At the moment, the arena is dominated by a character out of Dallas. And despite the fact that the engine cuts out when it’s stationary, it is a little optimistic to call any element of this machine “eco”. But it’s a cracker.
Mercedes CLS: in numbers
Top speed 155mph
Acceleration 0-62 in 6.5 seconds
Combined fuel consumption 52.3mpg
CO2 emissions 142g/km
Cool rating 8/10
Eco rating 7/10